The Ink They Left On Me: Writers Anne Lamott and Tracy Chevalier

Writers leave deep impressions on me with their art. Some people use the very skin of their bodies to honor people, places, or events that marked them. (Babies’ names and birth dates, faces of Jesus and Bible verses, animals, zodiac signs or Chinese characters symbolizing who they are or aspire to be…) The tattoos map out where they’ve been, and things that have built them and influenced them, creating a visible record.

Great books and writers have left marks on me, though others cannot see them. But I’m sure they inevitably leave some evidence in what I write—either in style, content, or structure. And the craziest thing I have to realize is that I may be unaware of some of it—maybe most of it!! I owe so much to other writers.

I’ve been spending time lately writing queries to agents, and guess what I got stumped on? Comparison titles! That stalled me for some time! But in considering that, it got me thinking about all these writers whose books I’ve not forgotten and what I learned from them. So, I want to start to honor them and the impact they’ve made; it’s a gift, really.


Reading Anne Lamott changed the way I write children. I noticed her gift for this first in her book, Blue Shoe; the young kids in that book are real characters, delineated as carefully as a portrait artist would render them. They’re written with such love that the book opened my eyes to having kids in adult books who were not just stock characters—not just objects or props in the lives of the adults to prove that families were made. I think I read that book a decade ago, and it still stands out as a flagship for writing kids.

See the source image

Photo from

Also, many years ago, I saw an interview with actress and children’s book author Jamie Lee Curtis who wrote a kids‘ book entitled, When I was Little: A 4-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth. One of my own children said precocious, adult-like things as a little tyke, and it is hilarious—but I can’t laugh, even from amusement, because he was very serious! I never read that picture book, but something Curtis said in the TV interview made me see the dignity and veracity in a child looking down the barrel of his/her whole life’s existence with authority. Kids are living a life, and they are the experts of their own experience, albeit it short.

When I was writing my first completed novel, I wanted the two kids in my book to be real, to have their own threads in the plot line. (Now, sadly so much of what I carefully wrote ended up being cut for the sake of shaving my mammoth book into something approaching publishable—but that’s another story…) But my older one, a girl named Lu who is seven, is complex and has very serious reactions to the events and phenomena in her life. Though she may be a minor character as the niece of a main character, she is much more than a prop, much more than a body in a scene merely holding a place in a family portrait to prove that her mother once gave birth.

But I’ve taken the challenge to write kids in a way that respects that youth has its own perspective of experiences—whether age three or thirteen. I want my kid characters to seem real because they say things that make you think. I don’t want them to say and do things that have them merely pass as realistic as humans. I remember the kids Lamott wrote were quirky and beautifully unique in the way most little kids are: whimsical and idealistic, feeling all their feelings so very intensely. Thanks, Anne! (But really, I could write a few posts about other things she has taught me…)


Next I need to mention Tracy Chevalier and her gift of introducing me to the dual timeline mastered well. Chevalier’s novel entitled A Virgin Blue is the first book I either read that was dual-timeline, or at least the first really well-done dual-timeline book that I read. Switching back and forth between a story of a French Huguenot family during the Reformation era in Europe and a modern-day woman vising Europe, Chevalier took me through these two stories in a way that made me more curious about each. I’ve rarely skimmed or gone ahead in books, but I confess I did on this one, to get to the climax of one storyline! The historical detail was astonishingly vivid, drawing me into the past of a domestic life I can only imagine. I can still feel the cuts and cracks on the raw skin of the characters as they worked the coarse hemp with their hands, hour after hour and day after day, for survival, for their family’s cottage industry.

Image result for tracy chevalier virgin blue

Photo from

After reading this book of Chevalier’s, I searched for two types of books: 1) anything else written by Chevalier and 2) books with dual timelines and/or two generations of the same family. Chevalier got me hooked on a whole sub-genre in literary fiction. And when I began to write the next novel, I knew I wanted to try that.

And there are so many more writers whose ink left marks on me! I could write a series of posts on them…. Maybe I will….


Other posts:

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom


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Latin Clue Game

In tutoring beginning Latin through Classical Conversations, Challenge A, I’m always looking for games to help the students review. And when I got to the second semester, I realized I need a completely different kind of game. Some of my students had fallen behind in the vocab or the parents had decided the goal in Latin had changed for their family. In class, I had students at wildly different places. I already employ of games that are not competitive–in that they rely on a lot of chance to win–to help level the playing field between students who’ve memorized everything and those who struggle. (Because the purpose of my class is not to make a student feel shamed and unable to play if their parents have decided they’re not learning all the vocab or they are doing it at a different pace. The point of this class is for us to all be able to encourage each other, to keep learning, not just reward the top performers.)

But what do you do when you realize you have students who really cannot even have an answer, and even when having students play in partnerships, it’s still obvious that some students have nothing to offer their partnership when it comes to memory work?

I was playing the game Clue with my kids one winter night, and it popped into my head that this game was perfect for my class! I made a quick list of subject nouns, another of objects, another of locations, and one of action verbs,  and thought how we could play Latin Clue without the board and the dice. All we needed was the list of words and students making guesses until they, by process of elimination, guess “who done it!”

Image result for photo clue game

As we’ve played it in class three weeks now, I love it even more! The beauty is that it is useful and encouraging to every student. They LOVE it, they PICK it EVERY week now! Even a student who doesn’t know a lick of new vocab can still play the Clue game because it requires only choosing words already given. Now when students eliminate a vocab word from the game, I ask the whole class what it means–so we get to review the words’ meanings in each turn, but that can be answered by anyone and doesn’t affect ability to participate. Lastly, I love that students are so alert during this game and paying attention to everyone else’s turn and what words they pick–because they HAVE to!

As you will see, it’s different from Clue in that every crime is not a murder. We can use most of our verbs, and it’s sometimes very funny to students how something can be a crime–for instance, a soldier can be accused of using influence and praising in the river. What story could explain that as a crime? But we go with it! Our purpose is to review as much vocab as possible.



Purpose: to review Latin vocab and grammar; multiple levels of play available and can be run simultaneously in the same class


Object of game: to correctly guess the crime, the perpetrator, the object used, and the location.


How to make the game: You could use the words in the game sheet I’ve pasted below or choose your own words. Make-up or print game sheet for students and make a flash-card sized card for each word on the list.

To start the game: 1) Pass out to each student (or pair of students if you have a group larger than say 10) a copy of the game sheet.

2) Take the vocab cards and choose one from each category to hold (That’s the info student are going to try to guess.)

3) Take all remaining cards, shuffle, and distribute to students evenly.

4) Explain the goal by referring to the sentence (either printed on the students’ sheets or written on the board):

___________ uses ___________ and  __________  in __________.

(subject noun)             (object-DO)                      (verb)             (location)


Student turns: 1) students will look at their cards and cross off, on their game sheet, any word they find on their cards.

2) At each turn, tell the class one word from each category (one person, one object, one verb, one location, etc.) NOTcrossed off on their list.

3) Any classmates who have one of those words just guessed should raise their hands. To make the game go slowly, you call on only one. When a student says he/she has one vocab word on their cards, everyone in the class should cross it out on their sheet; this word cannot be the real crime because the answers are not in the deck that was distributed to the students! To make the game go faster, at each turn, you could call on students to eliminate 2 or even three words per turn.

4) To make this a good review, ask if anyone knows the English translation each time you eliminate a word.

The end: when someone guesses a word for each category and no one in the class can refute them. You can chekc the cards you held bakc to verify.

To end before that (when you run out of class time for this), ask each student/pair to make a final guess about the person accused. Hear all guesses, then reveal the answer from what you held back. Award a point to each student who guessed correctly. Do the same process for each of the other categories. The winner is the person/pair with the most points. (See, the winner of this game becomes so through good guessing or exercise of logic skills–NOT based on how mcuh they’ve memorized. And sometimes, we just need that in our classes.)

Ideas for an even easier version: You can make cards and players’ sheets with only 2 categories—say, in first semester, you could have only verbs and objects. (You could pick one verb to be standard, not something that needs to be guessed.) You could add more categories over time as students learn more.

Ideas for harder versions:

1)     For the entire class: add more categories. I plan to add adjectives that could describe a person. Another challenge to add: require that for the end round of guessing, students may guess only words they can translate. Unless your class is up to it though, this may not be the best tack. You could also ask each student to translate their final guesses, but if they’re not sure, ask anyone in the class.

2)     For only some of your students, who are ready for the challenge: You place all words in alphabetical order on the game sheets instead of having them split into lists of people, objects, verbs, locations, etc. A student ready for it can test his/her understanding of grammar by having to find all the nominative nouns (people) versus accusative nouns (objects), verbs and ablative nouns (locations.) I plan to do this for my practicum class on Latin this summer. I will have 9 year olds as well as students who’ve completed Challenge A, so I will give the younger students sheets with all categories divided out, so they need only choose one per group to play—but students who need the challenge will get the sheet with the parts of speech all mingled together.



What do you notice that all the subject nouns (people) have in common? (They’re all nominative, they’re all singular.)

What do all objects have in common? (They’re all in the accusative form , they’re all also nouns.)

What do you notice about all the verbs? (They’re all in third person singular.)

What is the same about all locations? (They’re all in the ablative case.)

The above questions get at reviewing the grammar and their ability to observe the endings

If you make students the more advanced game sheets , they will have to use such knowledge of the endings and the grammar to even choose words to fit each category for their guesses.



  1. The first time you play will be slow and tedious. But it gets much faster as students get the hang of it. It’s so worth one slow first-time play for a great game the rest of the year. I typically play a review game for 15-20 minutes.  In Challenge A, the vocab is the highest priority.
  2. As for how many words/cards you need: consider the size of your class. For the word lists posted below, I used that for my class of 5, and after I saved four cards for the answer, each student then had 9 cards in their personal deck.

Practicum Latin Camp IDEAS: I love letting the kids get dramatic, so when we play at practicum, I will probably let volunteers dress up as the subject nouns on our list. I’ll bring in simple pieces of costumes to designate a soldier, a centurion, a senator, Caesar, a father, etc. The challenge I’m thinking through is how to let girls participate, since mother is the only  I’m using that is obviously a female, at least in the ancient Roman sense. (I may have to bend out of being strictly historically accurate…)


Sample of my game sheets below–except I cannot show you accurately how I made mine in Word with two columns. (This blog format will not let me do that…)

Sem  2,wk 6
PEOPLE (subject noun)
(direct) OBJECTS


LOCATIONS (object of preposition)

I hope this works in your classroom.

Other blog posts:

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Classroom Management: Positive Social Motivation

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees


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Jim Davis Art Lesson

I used this lesson below for my Masters class (ages 10-13) at my local Classical Conversations campus three years ago. For week 18, learning from the masters, the curriculum veers into the contemporary era and focuses on cartooning (much to the joy of this age of students)!

I’ve seen some suggestions and plans for having students make an original comic strip. I’ve tried. More than once. I’ve come to the conclusion that the concept of making a comic, which most often requires some teaching on what makes humor and what makes it come across well on a page, is way more than we have time to cover in this one lesson. Without targeted instruction on those topics, the results I got from students were stick figures or slightly better and plot lines that went nowhere or that were not conveyed well. And I can’t blame the students–it’s a complex task many adults could not master in the time we have for this lesson!

My lesson focused on the process to make one cartoon character.

Step #1: I brought in some Jim Davis cartoons–because, let’s face it, most students hadn’t ever seen one! The Garfield movie of recent times helps, but the actual comics are not something in students’ cultural repertoire. As we passed around some of the comics, I shared a little about Davis’ life and career as described in Discovering Great Artists.

Step #2: I set up a stuffed bunny on a tall chair in the front of the room and let everyone look at him. Then I drew one cartoon drawing of him on the white board, sticking with the proportions of the real subject. Then I drew another version, this time exaggerating one feature or another. As kids laughed, I drew a few more and asked them the differences. We talked about exaggerating parts and comparing what the effect was. We talked about what features, if exaggerated made people laugh, generally: ears, noses. We talekd about what features are exaggerated in cartoons for beautiful/handsome people: eyes. We talked about different shapes of features that gave the character different personalities/ages/etc.

Step #3: I gave students paper for an exercise of a few minutes: draw multiple versions of the bunny, making each one differently, exaggerating different features.

Step #4: Next, I asked students to think of one animal or person they’d like to make into a cartoon character (real or imagined.) I gave them new paper for this task. I asked them to try a few different versions, with different features exaggerated and see which one they liked best.

Step #5: When a student had an image they liked, I gave our black markers for tracing, giving the cartoons the bold ink look.

Jim Davis cartoon lesson 003 (2)

I drew three cartoon characters based on my children–at home, and intended to show my class as an example of what I was asking of them. Bu I forgot! i never showed them the example I created just for this purpose! If I had, I’d have talked about how heads are commonly drawn larger for kid cartoons–one of the cues that they are kids. A general point about cartoons is that perspective is kinda thrown out the window; cartoonists mess with that all the time.

Step #6: This step, my class never got to in class. But I encouraged them to take it home and color it, and show us the following week. and if I’d remembered, I’d have shown the class my colored version, which my eldest son colored for me!

Jim Davis cartoon lesson 004

Well, that’s it, wrapping up the Great Artists section of the curriculum for the year. This seemed, to me, the simplest lesson of them all. Perhaps because we used just pencils, markers and colored pencils and didn’t have any paint to mess with!

Any tips and tricks to share, those of you who try this?

Other posts:

Lichtenstein, Pop Art Lesson

Andrew Wyeth lesson

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Ten Mom Excuses Not to Get Around to Blogging

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Lichtenstein, Pop Art Lesson

Pop art. For this lesson on Lichtenstein and his 1960s comics’-inspired art, I thought a smaller-scale project would work better than what the Discovering Great Artists book suggests (considering time and space). I did this lesson with my Masters class in Classical Conversations, kids aged 9-13, but I’d also do it with Journeymen (8-9). The fine motor skills needed for this might make it a bit much for students in the younger classes.

Project: Dot-filled faces


hole punchers

strips of heavy paper or cardstock, at least a few inches wide.

a black marker for each student

large-tip colored markers

drawing paper (or computer paper)


Step 1. I introduced my class to the artist Roy Lichtenstein by saying nothing at first, and letting only my display of some of his works speak. I showed the most commonly-found type–the faces, as well as some with the bubble words. I asked students to observe and tell me what they noticed about Lichtenstein’s work. (This is such a departure from all the other artists, it’s fun to start this way! They’re usually quick to describe differences)

From their view across the room, your students might say only that they are comics. After my students observed them on the wall, I then walked the prints to them, so they can see the individuals dots making up each color.

Image result for lichtenstein pop art

Roy Lichtenstein. Found at:

Image result for lichtenstein pop art

Roy Lichtenstein. Found at:

Image result for lichtenstein pop art

Roy Lichtenstein. Found at:

Step 2. After the students shared observations, I shared a bit about Lichtenstein: his inspiration by comic strips and his goal to try to not only duplicate the look of newspaper printing of these comics, but to do so on the scale of billboards(!), precisely duplicating the dots.

Step 3. I gave each student a strip of paper. (Here I will depart from what I actually did three years ago. Then, I had strips of paper merely the length and width of a marker. I had punched holes into them along the edge. But I found they were too small and flimsy in practice.) I recommend strips at least three inches wide just so the students can hold and manage them better. Now, have them (or you, at home, if you prefer) punch holes alone one long edge, explaining that this is like a stencil: each hole they punch out is a space for them to color a dot on something. You could keep it simple and have all dots spaced a centimeter apart along the strip of paper. Or, with a really advanced class, you could have the holes on one end really close together, but holes on the other end of that same side of the strip placed further apart, so older students can have the option of two types of spacing for their project.

Step 4. I next showed my students the project sample below, pointing out that they next need to draw a cartoon face. Have students sketch a simple, cartoon face in pencil, then trace it with a black marker. Below you can see the evidence of this step in my finished project. (I also gave the option for students to draw a large bubble word instead of a face.)


Step 5: After the black line drawing is done, I demonstrated taking the strip of paper with holes punched in it and using it like a stencil. I instructed students to pick one section for the face that would all be the same color: the face, a lock of hair, a collar, etc. I laid the paper on one section of my drawn cartoon face and colored in the dots with a marker. Then, I moved my strip of paper to color in the next line of dots, explaining that students would be choosing the distance between lines of dots–but to have it look uniform, try to keep the distance the same each time they move across a section of the picture.

Note: let them know, the closer the dots are, the more the color will appear to be solid at a distance away from the viewer.

Step 6: Keep coloring dots!

Step 7: When students are done, or at the end of class, hold the pictures far away so students can the illusion achieved!

REFLECTION: I’d have made all my dot stencils closer together instead of using the wider-apart ones I used for the skin color.

End note: Ha ha! I accidentally put green dots in the whites of the eye! My blooper was a good reminder to students to pay attention to where they are coloring in dots!


Other Posts:

Andrew Wyeth lesson

Looking for Readers for My Novel

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

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Looking for Readers for My Novel

Anyone love to read? Love to read contemporary/literary fiction about family secrets, marriage and forgiveness? Well, if you said yes so far, read on.

I’m at the end of my process for writing my first complete novel. I’ve had two professional edits so far and have done multiple myself in order to cut the length of my book in half. (Because LONG is what happens when you work on a story for years, on and off, between having babies and homeschooling…)

I’ve had friends and other writers read multiple versions over recent years, but now that I have a newer, shorter version, I need fresh eyes to read it and let me know if it works–eyes that don’t remember parts of the earlier story that got cut!

If you’re still curious, here’s my back-of-the-book blurb:

Still House

When an environmental disaster gives her the excuse, Maizy Perez, a struggling young mother, packs her things to leave her second husband in an attempt to escape the house and the baby boy whose very existences accuse her of betraying her first husband. Twenty-nine years later, her grown son Asher Marin struggles in his marriage when he and his wife buy their first home, an act that threatens to bare his infidelity. As the house forces more secrets into the light than any in the family bargained for, each is challenged to find out who they really are in the great need of forgiveness.

I should also mention, the story jumps between the two generations: the young mother’s world and the grown son’s world. And think Oprah’s book club kind of books for the kind of character-driven drama I think is in this story.

If that sounds interesting, and you’d like to read it this chilly winter, let me know in the comments! I am looking for people who can commit to reading it within a month for fun, as a word document or PDF file. (I hate putting a time limit on it, but this is what I need right now. Also I have one caveat–I want people to read it only if it is enjoyable. If for any reason it stops being enjoyable, stop reading, no questions asked! Some of my best friends simply do not like this genre, and I get that! (If you do stop reading and can tell me why, though, that would be like gold to me as I try to make this the best story that I can. )

What do I ask after you read? If you were local, I’d take you out for coffee after you read the book and just chat with you–because you would be an expert in what I can never know myself: how a reader processes my story and feels about it. I’d ask you how you felt about each main character. I’d ask you if there was anything that really grabbed you, as well as anything that was confusing, lost your interest or just didn’t quite seem believable. (I’ve done this many times before, so I’m really okay with a reader telling me scenes that didn’t make sense, a character they didn’t like, or a plot feature that didn’t ring true, etc. ) I simply listen to the feedback and am so appreciative of anyone giving of TIME to give my story a chance! (And if you’re not local, I can’t take you out for coffee, but we’d still chat about your feelings/impressions of the book when you were done, pretty informally. We’d do it the way that is easiest for you: email? Facebook chat? You let me know!

Multiple amazing and wonderful people have given me this amazing gift already, and each time, I am truly awed and humbled by anyone willing to give of their time to read and give feedback!

Thank you for considering, if you read this far!





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Andrew Wyeth lesson

Muted grays and browns, little color. When you say “Andrew Wyeth,” to me, this is what comes to mind.  And this image:

Andrew Wyeth. Master Bedroom.

Most of his paintings conjure cold for me. The crisp chill of an outside winter’s day–or an inside chill, as in the above.  So while I’d not choose most of his paintings to hang in my home to bring some warmth, he is a master at what he does: capturing stark beauty of nature, of barrenness, of sparse prairies and lonely houses and barns. Of winter. Of chill. But even the brisk energy of the outdoors somehow comes across.

But what about him would I like to pass on to my students? Discovering Great Artists has a great project, and this is my take on it:

The Snow Project

I created this for my Masters class, students ages 10-13, in our Classical Conversations community, but this could be done with journeymen or even apprentices. The goal is to use watercolor to create a winter outdoor scene using dried glue–an easy method to create the illusion of snowflakes.


watercolor paper



newspaper to cover table

paper towels for wiping brushes

school glue (such as Elmer’s)


Step 1: I highly suggest having students do this step earlier in your morning, maybe even an hour before your art class time, so it will be dry in time for Fine Arts class.

Before I even explained anything else, I gave my students the watercolor paper and the glue, with instructions to make shallow dots of glue to mimic snow in an outdoor scene. I say shallow because the fuller/deeper the dots are, the longer they take to dry–and they will dry often like a globe top or a fallen layer cake. The goal is a flat dried circle of glue.

Step 2: Okay, now you’re starting class officially, by introducing Andrew Wyeth. I showed my students some of the artwork above and below and asked their observations. Piggy-backing off their responses, I shared some bio info from the book, noting particularly that he is a realist painter and a regionalist, specializing in the surroundings of his own region of the US.

Andrew Wyeth, Outpost.

Step 3: I explained that we would make an outdoor winter scene, and drew their attention to the tree. It’s good to ask, “Why is one side of the tree lighter in color?” Getting them to observe the effect of light is a key observational skill in drawing. Though tutoring for CC does not ask this of you, I decided I wanted to use this opportunity to teach a little about light and shadow.

Andrew Wyeth. The Ax.

Step 4: I gave students their papers with the dried glue dots and tasked them with imagining a winter scene they’d like to paint. (The blobs of dried glue on their paper already gave them falling snowflakes.) I chose to make mine a scene of the snow just beginning, so my landscape (below) showed autumn with some color in it still.

wyeth painting 001

Step 5: (optional) Have students lightly sketch an outdoor scene on their watercolor paper.

Step 6. Painting the background. I shared with students that it’s far easier to start with the background first–rather than paint a detailed tree and then have to try to fit other things behind and between the branches! It’s easiest to begin with the sky and the background stand of trees.

This is not the kind of painting I’ve ever really spent time doing, so this was a new thing for me. I’m always trying to encourage my students to try new things–to give a project a chance even if they’d rather be painting a car or a cat (or playing a video game)!

Step 7. Next, I suggested painting the focal point–the main objects you want your audience to see. For me that’s my trees. Before I painted, I had to decide which direction the light came from. In last week’s lesson (Georgia O’Keefe lesson), I showed students how to “erase” with water colors to get a lighter shade, either by blotting with a tissue or diluting an already-painted, mostly-dry area with a watery paintbrush. They could employ one of those methods to depict one side of trees as lighter. (Short explanation: paint whole tree with a medium shade of the color you want. Use a tissue to blot away, or a watery-paintbruh to wash away, the lightest portion of your tree. Last, to get the shadowy side paint, paint it a darker color.)

My warm browns show I’m not emulating Wyeth in his color palette, and I told my students they could choose, or not choose, colors like Wyeth used.)

Step 8: Last, I added in my grass and the rock wall around the tree trunks. (I could have, maybe should have, done that before the trees.)

Step 9: Watercolor can mange to dry on top of the glue. If paint dries, it can be re-wetted with a paintbrush and wiped away to leave white snowflakes. (Or, some types of paper will allow you to peel off the dried glue, revealing pristine white orbs beneath.)

Notes: This was fun to do! So while I have little experience painting landscapes to offer any knowledgeable tips, I enjoyed it. And learning things to use to resist paint–like dried glue–is a useful lesson in itself for students! The glue that dries clear acts like a window to allow you to preserve and see through to the white paper. Also, if some of the watercolor dries on top of the glue, it can be wiped off with water, leaving the glue clear again. I’d like to do this again, with more creativity, now that I’ve given it a shot!

Any comments or thoughts to share? Please do!

On another topic, are you a reader? I’m looking for people to read my professionally revised, finished draft of my novel before I take it to agents. More info? Looking for Readers for My Novel.

Other posts:

Looking for Readers for My Novel

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

Norman Rockwell lesson

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses


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Georgia O’Keefe lesson

I confess: I’ve never been a huge fan of Georgia O’Keefe. I guess I’m just not a big flower kind of art-loving gal. But I enjoyed this art lesson very much. Three years ago, this lesson was used in my Masters class (kids ages 10-13) for Fine Arts, week 15 of cycle 3 for Classical Conversations, but really, I would do this project with even apprentices (ages 6-7).

Discovering Great Artists gives you basic background info. She was a trained artist in the early 1900s, considered by many to have begun pure abstraction in American Modernism. In planning this lesson, I found more to appreciate about her work than I’d noticed previously. The calla lily below captivated me for the whimsical bend in the stem and the amazing articulation of the line wending its way up the paper, the slight shadow of the under-petal. But, trying to teach students to paint what on white–not the most practical introduction!

Georgia O’Keefe. Calla Lily Turning Away.

But she was famous for flowers. Flowers and skulls. I had some woodsy boys in class, and at my request, they did indeed bring found skulls from their property to class this day, so most boys did this project with a skull while the girls did the flowers.

The Project. My class was older, with some kids who were very serious about developing skills–so what skill could I pass on? (Note, letting them experiment with the medium and study her works is enough; no one in CC is instructed or expected to do more than that.) I’d decided I would use watercolor for this project, AND I was inspired by the range of light to dark in the flower petals below, so I aimed to show my students the wonderful quality of watercolors in that they can be “erased” to show very light areas.



dish of water


watercolor paper (important!! otherwise, the moisture will destroy the paper before they’ve accomplished anything)

tissues/paper towels for blotting

newspaper for table

paper towel for wiping brushes


Step #1. I passed out paper and allowed students to choose a skull or a fake flower which I brought to class. (I had orange and red roses). I showed them some of her paintings, including a couple skulls and the poppy and roses below:

Georgia O’Keefe. Red Poppy.

Georgia O’Keefe. Yellow Rose.

Step #2. I asked students to review, aloud, how to first approach a basic sketch of their chosen subject. (Look for the OiLs and basic geometric shapes, and measure the size of shapes, etc.) Then I showed my sample project. While I do not have a preserved sketch before painting, you can see the pencil lines in my sample below:

O-keefe painting 2 001

This sketch is not detailed; it records only the outside line of each petal’s edge. I encouraged students to stat in the middle and build  out, and to have fun with all the varieties of lines–from curves to ruffles. But don’t spend a lot of time on it.

Step #3. Observation–the key to everything. Ask students to observe the medium shade of what they are drawing. (For the skulls, we were working with a light yellow/green color or blue for the bones). Then I showed them how to take that medium shade and just quickly cover the entire shape on their page with that color.

Step #4: Observe where on the object has the lightest shade of that color. I demonstrated two ways to go back and make those sections/petals lighter. The first works only on still-wet paint: take a tissue or paper towel and blot. The tissue will soak up the moisture–and the pigment with it–leaving a lighter shade on the paper. This is kinda of fun, and some students ran with this, blotting away on all their lightest parts and never using the second method. The second method can be used even when paint is completely dry. Simply take a wet brush to areas you want lighter, and by painting on clear water, the paint in the area will be diluted. That might lighten it enough–or, you could go back to method #1 and blot some of the paint off to lighten it even more. You can even get back to nearly pure white this way.

Step #5. Observe the darkest parts of the objects. For flowers, generally the middle, for sure, and for the skulls, the depressions and eye sockets. Here, I showed students how to darken the medium shade they painted by painting a brown overtop the orange for my flower. (Depending on the color of flower, a wash of gray might be more appropriate than brown). This sample below shows a lot more work done on the darker areas than my sample above. Of the two samples, I recall that one I did before class to show students what we were doing, and the other I made as I took them step-by-step through the project. (I no longer recall which one is which).o'keefe painting 1 001 Step #6 Note that because this is water color, our techniques to erase, lighten and darken can be used again and again (unless our paper gets too soggy and starts coming apart. The key to preserving the paper is to not get it too wet, and let it dry between changes.)

I recall this being the best/easiest project of the year as far as being able to finish in the time allotted. The skulls were harder than the flowers, due to the issues in having to paint something that looks white. (The concept of painting white deserves its own lesson!) I liked giving the boys the skulls option–because how many times will we study an artist who paints animal skulls?! But it would have been better for them had I made that the entire class’ project and therefor have been able to focus on its unique needs and do it step-by-step with them.

PS One of my samples has splatter marks –I tell my class those happy accidents can look like rain or dew drops (and can put there intentionally, if wanted, by splattering water from the brush).

So, any tips or comments from those who’ve done this lessons? Please share your experiences or observations!

On another topic, are you a reader? I’m looking for people to read my professionally revised, finished draft of my novel before I take it to agents. More info? Looking for Readers for My Novel.


Other posts:

Looking for Readers for My Novel

Norman Rockwell lesson

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

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